Yalqun Rozi dedicated his life to Uyghur literature and education. As an author, lecturer and academic, Yalqun edited and compiled more than 100 textbooks on Uyghur culture. He was one of the leading Uyghur public intellectuals ensuring that his culture and traditions were preserved and carried on through the generations.

In October 2016, he disappeared. “We don’t know his current condition. We don’t know his location,” said Kamaltürk Yalqun, his son.

Chinese officials confirmed in 2018 that Yalqun Rozi had been imprisoned for “inciting subversion of state power.” His son says it was for supporting Uyghur culture.

Man standing in front of poster on easel (State Dept./Linda D. Epstein)
Kamaltürk Yalqun stands next to a poster featuring his father, Yalqun Rozi. Yalqun, a Uyghur, is imprisoned by the Chinese government. (State Dept./Linda D. Epstein)

His father edited Uyghur humanities textbooks, published articles about Uyghur culture, and helped develop the Uyghur curriculum for schools. Working on Uyghur textbooks was taken as “evidence of ideological problems” in 2016 when Chen Quanguo was appointed the Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Kamaltürk said. “My father, [along with] the whole textbook compiling company, was arrested.”

“We didn’t know where he was taken because he was arrested without charges,” he said. Kamaltürk was in Washington to attend the “Exposing China’s Concentration Camps” exhibit at the National Press Club to help raise awareness about the situation in Xinjiang and tell his father’s story.

An ongoing campaign to suppress culture

As part of its ongoing suppression of ethnic minorities, the Chinese government has imprisoned more than 1 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim religious minorities.

In response to global criticism, the Chinese government has claimed that the camps are vocational schools, necessary to educate Xinjiang’s residents in the Chinese language and laws to prevent and combat the spread of terrorism and religious extremism.

Building with guard tower and barbed wire fence (© Ng Han Gua/AP Images)
A guard tower and barbed wire fences surround an internment camp in China’s Xinjiang province. (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)

But the arrest of Yalqun and hundreds, if not thousands, of intellectuals like him shows that the government is not concerned with employment, but rather with stamping out ethnicity. This cultural eradication can be seen in the recent banning of the Uyghur language in schools, the compulsory memorization of Chinese Communist Party slogans by Uyghur prisoners, and forced adoption of Chinese dietary and religious practices.

Kamaltürk said he and others are trying to create outside pressure on China “to make them stop these concentration camps.”

“Stopping [China’s] concentration camps and arbitrary detention is” what is most important, he said.

Internal Chinese government documents back up Kamaltürk’s view. Official documents, examined by AFP, say the purpose of the camps is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.”

The Chinese government is “trying to eliminate our culture and assimilate us,” Kamaltürk said. “They are just trying to terrorize Uyghur people, creating psychological trauma to break their will.”